Female candidates reflect on races run and those yet to come

Jacksonville politicians, past, present and future, weigh in on running as a woman

By Nancy Lee Bethea
Resident Community News

Females are under-represented in Jacksonville’s political offices. Women represent 51.5 percent of the population of Duval County, according to the 2010 United States census. Of 19 seats on City Council, only three are currently filled by women. Fifteen years ago, 10 women held City Council seats.

Is Jacksonville a man’s town? Are women too intimidated, overcommitted or family-oriented to run for political office these days?

The Resident spoke to three women who have either ventured into the local political arena or plan to in 2015. All three agreed running for office is a tough decision for women. Reflecting on past races, present terms and future elections, the three shared their thoughts on women in Jacksonville politics.

• Suzanne Jenkins

Suzanne Jenkins, an Englewood resident, began her political career as a citizen activist working within neighborhoods. Challenged by former City Council president Ginger Soud, who was Chair of Land Use and Zoning at the time, to consider running for office, Jenkins decided to run for City Council.

Successful in her campaign, Jenkins served two terms on City Council, District 4, from 1999-2007, and as Council vice president in 2001. Better communication existed between local government agencies and the Mayor’s Office during her time on the Council, Jenkins said, partially due to more women holding seats. “People understood what the issues were, and how they would be voted on,” Jenkins said. “With meetings now, I don’t know what they’re doing. There’s no discussion.”

Jenkins was fortunate to run for office when she did because people wanted to vote for women. This was partly due to scandals surrounding President Bill Clinton, she added.
Five candidates ran in the race, four Democrats and one Republican. “Everywhere, the Republican said, ‘I’m the only Republican in the race.’ So, I started saying, ‘I’m the only woman in the race,’” Jenkins said. She won the run-off election even though the three Democratic candidates she defeated supported the Republican candidate.
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Now co-owner of a public relations and communications firm, Jenkins said she will make herself available to anyone considering a run for political office. “I love to help people launch. I especially love to help women launch,” Jenkins said. “I want to pass the baton.

“I would love to see more women run,” she added. “A diverse mix is a benefit for the City. People’s realities are different, and it’s good to have a reflection of different realities.”

• Lori N. Boyer

San Marco resident Lori N. Boyer currently serves as the City Councilwoman for District 5. Elected in 2011, Boyer said her decision to run took encouragement and reaching a point in life where she had time to commit to public service. She waited until her youngest child was in college.

In Boyer’s case, the nudge came from the late United States Representative, Tillie Fowler. Boyer was nominated for an Eve Award in 2004. At an awards gathering, Fowler spoke, and she encouraged women to run for office. “It does mean something when another woman encourages you to run,” Boyer said.

Currently, Boyer serves as chair of the Rules and Land Use and Zoning Committee and chair of the Task Force on Consolidation, among other things. Working with her husband, Circuit Judge Tyrie W. Boyer, and attending the Jacksonville Political Leadership Institute helped prepare her for public office, she said.

Like Jenkins, Boyer appreciates viewpoints Council members bring to the table. “Everyone has different perspectives. It enriches debate,” she said.

Boyer would like to see more women on City Council. “Fifty percent of the population is women, yet the Council is not 50 percent women,” Boyer added.
“It’s a challenge to get women to make the commitment to run,” Boyer said. “Women need a supportive spouse and family to do it. They do not need to feel guilty about time they’re not at home.”

As for the grassroots initiative Nine in ’15, Boyer agrees with the group’s efforts. “Women need to be encouraged. They might need more of a nudge [than men] to run,” she added.

 • Tracie Davis

Deputy Supervisor of Elections Tracie Davis said making the decision to run for Supervisor of Elections in 2015 was not easy. The Springfield resident made the decision after being encouraged by co-workers, praying and discussing pros and cons with her family.

Davis has worked at the Supervisor of Elections office since 2001, first as an Education Specialist then as both Director of Community Outreach and Director of Education and Communications. Davis was named Deputy Supervisor in 2011.

“Even though I’ve filed, and I’m in it to win it, I’m still going into something unknown as a woman,” Davis said of her campaign. “There’s a difference for women because you have a family to think about, and women provide so much, but it’s not that different from men running,”
she added.

Her biggest challenge has been name recognition outside of the political arena. She confronts it by attending events and getting her name out there, she said.
Davis is qualifying to run by petition, so she needs 5,573 signatures or one percent of the population to support her candidacy. She’s using the signature process as a marketing tool, Davis said. “People ask about me, and that leads into a conversation,” she added.

The best part of running is the buzz Davis witnesses when people find out a woman is running for office. “When people hear I’m running at the events I go to, first there’s surprise, then applause. It’s been empowering and exciting,” she said.

For more information on offices up for election in 2015 and current candidates, visit the Supervisor of Elections web site at
www.duvalelections.com.

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